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An extraordinary number of people are feeling the effects of social isolation. One in four say they have no one to talk to about their accomplishments or challenges. And when family members are removed from the equation, that number doubles.

The effects of social isolation are great. A recent study by Brigham Young University researchers concludes it may be the next big public health issue. Feelings of loneliness can increase the risk of death by 26 percent. Even more severe, a lack of social connection and living alone were found to increase this number to 29 percent and 32 percent, respectively. Social isolation also can cause inflammation, increased stress and a weakened immune system.

As healthcare providers, you can do your part in combatting loneliness and depression with the gift of time. Keep reading to learn more.

Putting an end to loneliness and depression

Several causes of social isolation exist—impaired mobility, illness, the birth of a child or the death of a spouse are just a few. Educating staff and patients on the effects of isolation is a start to ending loneliness and depression. But being a part of the change you wish to see could help end it. Here’s how:

Become a volunteer

When you become a volunteer, you improve your life and the lives of others. Helping others can provide a mental boost, increased sense of purpose and improved self-esteem.

Consider a department-wide volunteer initiative where employees are encouraged to team up and to do good. Countless opportunities exist to work with the disabled, the elderly, veterans and other at-risk populations. Reward employees for participation with logo’d apparel—Tshirts, baseball caps and hoodies make nice choices and outfit your volunteers with a unified look. Imprint the message, “Volunteers are a work of heart!” You may also consider providing a logo’d deck of cards  or adult colouring book —they make great ice breakers!

Be a good neighbour

In the 1970s, one in three people regularly spent time with their neighbours. Today, one in three Canadians feel disconnected from their neighbours. Getting to know those who live nearby instils a sense of community and belonging. Be a good neighbour—introduce yourself, invite a neighbour over for a chat or cup of coffee, or simply say hello. You never know—your greeting may be the only one someone gets that day.

Be a friend

The gift of time is perhaps one of the best gifts of all. Do you have a friend who recently had a baby, changed jobs or got divorced? These life-changing events can cause even the young to feel lonely, depressed and isolated. Extend a dinner invitation or a shoulder to lean on. Offer to babysit or to take your friend to a movie. These small gestures may not be so small to someone who is experiencing social isolation. Sometimes all it takes is to be a friend.

The effects of social isolation are severe. But, together, we can be the change we wish to see and help put an end to social isolation.

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